2/3 - Reaction
Out in the garden it was a lot calmer. The faint sound of the music radiated from inside of the house, and there weren't as many people to suffocate me socially. Just a few stood by the walls or sat in the grass or on stray plastic chairs. Most people were outside to smoke, it seemed.
"This way." I heard Lia call to me, making me realise that I had gotten distracted looking around whilst she walked ahead of me. I caught up to her and was surprised when she linked her arm with mine. "Don't want you wandering off, do I?" She smirked, and I felt myself smile.
She led us to the back of the garden, where there was a group of about five people sat on the grass smoking. I recognised two of them as the girls from earlier.
"Hey guys, I want you to meet.." Lia started to introduce me, only for both of us to realise we'd never officially exchanged names or anything like that. For a second I was reminded that we did not know each other, at all - we could end up being complete opposites wishing we'd never met within the next five minutes. However, right now that didn't feel like it was possible.
"I'm Kendra." I smiled, giving a small wave to the group who gave me a warm welcome and shared their names in return.
"It's so weird that I hadn't even asked your name - sorry about that. It just felt like I must've already done that, y'know? I'm Malia, by the way." She spoke as we both sat down, and I glanced at her quickly.
"That's a pretty name." I blurted, immediately avoiding eye contact after I said it. I thought Lia was nice, but Malia was somehow even nicer...
"Yours too." She grinned, tucking her dark hair behind her ear as I smiled bashfully. "Do you smoke, by the way?"
"I haven't..." I shook my head because I didn't really... do much, at all. Let alone smoke. Again - I was drinking cider and only cider at this party.
"Oh I'm sorry - do you mind if we smoke around you then? I don't wanna make you uncomfortable." She was so considerate, and we'd known each other for ten minutes maximum... it was almost jarring to me.
"It's fine." I reassured her; I'd never done anything interesting, but that didn't mean I hadn't been around it. I could tell by the smell alone that they weren't just cigarettes either. Malia took a drag of hers and I found myself unknowingly breathing in the smoke that she let out, as if it travelling through us both somehow.
"You wanna try? This shit is real." One of the guys in the circle addressed me and I hesitated. Was it worth trying? I wasn't the type to do anything like this, and I was scared of having a bad experience...
"You don't have to if you don't want to, by the way. Only do it when you're comfortable otherwise it'll fuck you up in the wrong way." Malia shook her head whilst letting smoke escape her lips and I felt the corners of my mouth turn upwards. "It is good shit. But it's up to you."
I turned it down. I knew I wasn't in the position to be doing mind altering things, with people I didn't know well in a situation that was already uncertain to me. They all, thankfully, accepted my choice, and we ended up sitting and talking as the substance slowly overtook them all.
For the first time in a long time I felt comfortable talking around people that I didn't know. Something about these people was different - it felt like they were making space for me. We connected with one another instantly, like tectonic plates sliding into place. I felt confident speaking out loud, no fear of being interrupted or ignored or misunderstood. We told stories and laughed together about all sorts of things, from cramming last minute for an assignment, to having weird dreams about unusual TV characters. They told a few stories I couldn't necessarily relate to, but... they didn't make me feel unwelcome for being oblivious. They didn't shut me out for not being apart of their shared memories; they let me in.
I found out that Malia was 19, going on 20 - the same as me - and studying fine art at university. I studied physics, which is like... the opposite of that. She grew up with a single mother as well as an older sister and a younger brother, whilst I was an only child living with my mum. She was half Native American and half Mexican, growing up in America and moving to the UK at age 13. Only when she told me that did I realise how different her accent actually was to mine - I was half Nigerian and half English, growing up with both my parents in London. The most travelling I'd really done was when I came to university. We were both second year students and we both had a guilty pleasure for fantasy TV shows and bad movies.
I bonded with her friends too; despite Malia's apparent failure to watch Gossip Girl like her friend had been complaining about, I had actually watched it in its entirety and was able to chat about it alongside her friend who also mocked that Malia was being replaced. I found myself laughing and connecting with each one of them, feeling more alive and welcome than ever... Being with them in that moment was like a warm embrace after a long cold winter.
"I'm gonna grab another drink, guys." I announced, having ran out of my cider a while ago.
"Oh I'll come!" Malia piped up, climbing to her feet before I even got a chance to move. "Let's go!" She cheered, pulling me to my feet as I giggled at her excitement. The group waved us off and carried on their conversations as Malia lead the way to the house. I felt her hand move into mine and almost didn't react, convincing myself that I was misunderstanding her gesture, only for her fingers to slip between mine and grasp my hand firmly. She was holding my hand. I tried not to think about it too much as we walked towards the house, but I couldn't help but acknowledge the unusual joy I was feeling.
"I'm having a really good time." I ended up blurting, and Malia turned to smile at me. "I don't usually like parties or groups but like - this is great."
"I'm glad you're having a good time, babe." I felt my heart skip a beat at her words but ignored it because... I didn't know what the feeling meant. It was so different. I just smiled at her enthusiasm and my surprisingly good mood. "We still drinking cider, by the way?" She asked as we approached the drinks table.
"I don't really drink anything else. You can if you want though-"
"No way! Cider sisters." She smirked and I found myself laughing out loud.
"Yeah, is that corny? I thought it was cute." She giggled, and I only found myself laughing more.
"No it's totally cute. Cider sisters." I grabbed a can once I reached the table and held it to my chest, almost as if it were sentimental to me. Malia started picking up a few cans, as well as some for her friends, and I started to look around the room, curious about things that had changed since I'd been in the garden; there were more people. It was busier, a bit louder. My boyfriend was no longer playing beer pong. Part of me was curious where he went... part of me felt like I should just leave him behind like he did me. But I found myself continuing to turn, subconsciously looking to see if he was in the room; before I was able to fully turn, however, Malia stopped me in my tracks.
"Can you hold these for me?" She held out a few cans of different drinks abruptly in front of me. Of course I took them, but my eyes focused on her face and noticed something had changed about it. It looked like the face you make when you suddenly remember you forgot to reply to someone's text.
"What's wrong?" I furrowed my eyebrows, my face still settled in a soft smile from before. She stared at me for a moment and I felt a frown begin to form, reflecting the look of uncertainly and slight sadness on her face. A million thoughts ran through my mind but they didn't stop me from seeing her eyes quickly look away. Instinctively, my eyes followed hers, despite her attempts to distract me - obviously she hadn't anticipated for me to even notice her looking away.
"Wait-" She tried to step between me and the sight across the room, but it was too late. I know my feelings must have shown on my face by the way she winced.
There he was. That chemical fire of a man, lips melting into someone else's; hands burning against her skin. That toxic flame should've been obvious the minute I entered the room but I was caught up, breathing in the feeling of bliss that I hadn't experienced for so long... and now the air felt poisoned.
"Kendra..." I heard Malia's voice snap me out of my empty staring into the dark void that was my boyfriend, and turned to look at her instead. I hadn't realised my eyes were burning. But I was not going to cry. "I'm sorry..." She shook her head, turning to look in the same direction before turning back to me. "I was trying to get you out of here before you saw-"
"No actually, it's... it's fine." I nodded hesitantly, feeling my eyes narrow. Something was coming over me. "I think I was meant to see that." I looked back over to where the betrayal was taking place and noticed they'd moved towards the stairs... "Looks like they're going to uh... have their own fun." I let out a stifled chuckle, looking down momentarily before making eye contact with Malia again... she looked concerned. "That doesn't mean my fun should be over." I shook my head, and watched as her concern slowly transformed into intrigue. Things were about to change.
We went back out to the back garden, walking into the gentle haze of smoke that filled the area. "Guys, we should go somewhere else, it's dead here." Malia suggested to her friends as soon as we reached them. There were no complaints about her suggestion, which was both a relief and a shock to me - I was so used to being around someone who was combative or dismissive to every suggestion...
"Ooh, how about the beach? Or we could go to the lake again, that was cool... Wait, we haven't been to the skatepark in ages..." One of the guys fantasised as they all climbed to their feet.
"Kendra, what sounds good to you?" Malia asked, placing a hand on my shoulder comfortingly. I thought about it for a second... It was surprising to me that most of the suggestions were outside areas and not a fast food place, or a friends house, or to just give up and go home for the night.
"The beach sounds nice." I smiled at the thought of the waves. The weather was warm, with a slight breeze that wrapped around you as it went, and I could only imagine the calming atmosphere of the beach as the smell of salt water crept up on you. In that moment, I craved the feeling of sand underneath me; laying on a surface that slowly pulled me in, hands sinking into the earth. I wished I could just be engulfed into nature's embrace. Part of me felt excited as we collectively made our way there, prepared to find comfort in the stones that lined the ocean waves and creatures that burrowed into the soft sand, but another part of me knew my cravings were coming from the feeling of loneliness and betrayal brought upon me only moments ago. I was craving freedom from that pain and I had to be cautious about where that took me.